86 Days in Sana'a

A captivating account of Rich's intensive studying of Arabic, travels, and everyday life in Sana'a, Yemen.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Signing off from Sana'a


It seems like just the other day, I arrived at Sana’a International Airport in the middle of the night, naïve, and green to the world, not even sure I would be able to obtain an entry visa. I remember it clear as day, as we drove into the city and I looked around me, puzzled, wondering what decisions (or mistakes) I had made in life that had brought me to the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula for three months. This was followed by the overwhelming loneliness that consumed me when I checked into my room and realized that there was no way to even contact my family to let them know I had arrived safely. Skip ahead three months and it is a different story. While I am very excited to come home, I am also going to miss the excitement of life in Yemen. I’m sure Jenna doesn’t want to hear this, but I can assure you I will be returning to the region in the near future; there are already rumors about a summer in Damascus next year, inshallah.

From my experience the last three months, I encourage people to follow their dreams and adventure out into the world. I came to Yemen with no prior knowledge of the region, I knew no one, and I would be reluctant to say I knew any Arabic. Nevertheless, I made a large contingent of Yemeni friends, both from the school and the streets; I made friends from around the world (Europe, Asia, Africa), I traveled to two continents, and along the way picked up a second language. In addition to this, it has also made me respect and value how well off I have it in the United States. Okay, I’m done with the “deep” and “reflective” babble for now.

As for my last few days in Sana’a, they did not quite go as I had imagined. On Sunday night, after almost three months of being healthy, I finally got very sick. It started when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to use the bathroom a few times, and then all of a sudden broke out into a full out fever. At first I had awful chills, so I bundled up in all my clothes, even wrapping a shawl around my head. About an hour later, I awoke again, except now I felt like I was on fire, as evidenced by my sweating straight through my layers of clothes and sheets. Needless to say, I did not sleep much at all, and when 10:00am rolled around for my lesson there was no way I was going to class in my state. So I stumbled over to the school, told my teacher Adel I was not fit for class, and stumbled back home. 

Unfortunately, this was my last lesson with Adel, which stunk, because this was not the way I imagined finishing up my lessons. I slept the rest of the day, except for about three hours in the afternoon when I forced myself to get up, eat some food, and get my laundry from the laundryman down the street.

On Tuesday, I awoke around 10am, after sixteen hours of sleep and I was feeling much better. It was a holiday, similar to our labor day, so there were no classes. Thus, I took my day off to walk around town and take pictures of Sana’a. My buddy Ali accompanied me, and we just strolled around leisurely, talking and taking pictures of the souqs, the Sila, the Old City, etc. It was funny, because when we finished our little trip, he gave me a huge packet of materials about Islam that he just “happened” to have in his car. How convenient! I definitely led him on during our qat chew on Thursday, with all my praise of Islam, and I give him credit for being persistent. For Muslims, one of the best things you can do is to help convert a Christian, Jew, “non-believer” etc., and show them the true path. Behind, "Where are you from?" and "What is your name?", "Are you Muslim?" is the third most popular question I have been asked. I do not see myself converting anytime soon, but who knows; perhaps I'll have some divine inspiration. After my walk I had one last lunch at Sadaam’s of rice, sahawik, and chicken, then forced myself to do some Arabic. In the evening, myself and a few of my friends from the Center went to Hamra, on Hadda Street for dinner. To add some excitement to the trip, there was a huge grease fire on the roof (they definitely needed Brink’s expertise).      It turned out to be harmless in the end, but it was raging pretty well for about ten minutes before the workers were able to extinguish it. The best part about it was the host kept making sure we were not leaving because he did not want to lose our business. Great business there, make sure the customers stay, even if their life is in danger, because you want to make sure to get your four thousand rials. From the restaurant, Tim and I went over to Tahrer, one last time, to watch the second leg semi-final between Liverpool and Chelsea. Much to my satisfaction, Liverpool won on PK’s in an exciting game. Unfortunately, I will not be able to watch my team (Man United) tomorrow night, but Tim is going to give me updates on the phone while I wait for my plane.
As for today, in the morning I got my usual egg sandwich and ate it along with some tea at Sadaam’s as I said my goodbyes. Around noon, I caught up with Mohammad and we went and bought qat for tonight before I head to the airport. Then for lunch, just like for Danny, Mohammad’s wife made a huge meal (check out the pics), and we all ate until we were full. Now the plan is to have one last lesson with Ghaleb from 3pm-5pm, chew a bit o’ qat with Mohammad, Ali, and Ghaleb. Then say my goodbyes and head to the airport. I cannot believe the end is here. They changed the time of my flight though, so I hope that my ticket gets me on the plane, or else I will be livid. I also received my certificate of completion from Jameel, which stated I had completed Level 3, with a “level” of excellent. Whohoo! They probably give everyone an "excellent".

Also,  my teacher, Adel, told me another interesting bit of information about eduction in Sana'a the other day -- It turns out that the public schools in Sana’a are overrun with students and do not have anywhere near the amount of teachers needed for the job. Adel, who also works in a government school, said that in his school, there are 6,000 students and only 60 teachers. In each class there are anywhere from 100-150 students, and the periods are only 40 minutes long. On top of all this, the teachers get paid dirt, maybe $100-$120 a month, and the students only go to school for four hours each day. Half the students go in the morning from 8-12 and half go in the afternoon. Crazy. 

That’s it for now. I hope everyone has enjoyed my blog. I intend to put up a few more posts reflecting on my time in Yemen / the culture shock I experience (if any) when I return to the States.

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Ma salaama!
Rich

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

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Check out my buddy Issac's blog if you feel like procrastinating and not studying for your upcoming finals. It is listed as Blogging in Yemen under my links on the sidebar.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Final Weekend

Starting where I left off last time….
On Tuesday night, I went to watch Manchester United vs. AC Milan in the Champions League semi-final. The game turned out to be another exciting match (I’ve been spoiled since I’ve been here seeing high scoring, exciting games). I also made a bet with Larry, a student from Finland, that Man U. would win, and they did on an amazing Wayne Rooney goal in the 91st minute, making me a 1000 rials richer.

On Wednesday evening, I headed to Pizzaiola, a Italian restaurant on Hadda Street (the gaudy section of Sana’a), and had delicious pizza. The restaurant was nice, and it was the first time since I’ve been here that if I wouldn’t have looked out the window, I could’ve been in any “Western” country in the world. After dinner, I went to the café again and watched the other Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool, which was quite an ugly match that saw Chelsea win 1-0.

This brings us to my final weekend in Yemen. Early on Thursday morning, I met up with my teacher Adel and a couple other of his students and headed to Hamaam Koury (equivalent of a men's spa). We drove to the Hamaam which was located in the new city. When we arrived, we could’ve never guessed what awaited us inside. We went down these steps and were in this stone, underground dungeon with little windows letting in narrow rays of sunshine. First, we went into the sauna.  A stone room that was hot as hell and were instructed to lie down on the stone floor ("because it was good for us"). We laid there for about 15mins, relaxed and sweated it out, before being grabbed by one of the employees who took me into another room where he scrubbed me down with a rough cloth and hot water. I felt like a snake, the way my skin was just molting off of my body. It felt pretty good though, almost massage like, and I just sat back and relaxed as the guy used the “Kees” to scrub me down. After this he took my soap, which I had brought, and gave me a good washing and then rinsed me down with warm water.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I definitely would’ve come more often if I would’ve known about these places earlier. I left feeling refreshed and clean. Plus, I must admit I was a bit nervous of a grown man scrubbing me down (let the jokes begin), but it turned out to be no problem at all. And no, none of the men were naked. It was also cheap, about 3 bucks, so I was quite pleased I had gotten in a trip to the hamaam before leaving.

After the hamaam, I had two hours of Arabic with Ghaleb, then we grabbed salta together, before I met up with Crazy Mohamad (we are buds again) and went to his friend Ali’s house to chew qat. It turned out to be one of the best chews yet, because it was just Ali, Mohamad, and myself chewing for three hours in Ali’s beautiful mafraj. The best part about the chew though was how much Arabic I spoke. Ali speaks a bit of English, but made sure to only use Arabic so I could practice, and because Danny isn’t around anymore, I got to speak non-stop for three hours. The only negative thing about having Danny around when we used to chew was that he could speak better than I could, so I would usually speak less (no offense Danny if you are reading this). We talked about all sorts of things, politics, religion --a personal favorite of the Yemenis-- and other random things. On the religious topic, I must admit I was “praising” Islam a lot, but mainly just to keep Ali and Mohamad talking and interested in the conversation. We finished the chew around the evening call to prayer (6:30pm), and I went back to my room and ripped Arabic for a couple hours, aided by the qat which put me in the zone. In the evening, I helped Mohamad send an e-mail using his new GMail account, and we stopped by a wedding for a bit, but left because the music was deafening. By this point, it was getting late, so we headed our separate ways and called it a night.

On my final Friday, I did my usual thing. Woke up late, studied Arabic and then went with Ben to Club Al-Ahli for football one final time. We put together a solid team and played quite well, winning a good amount of our short sided games. Luckily, there wasn’t much quarrelling yesterday among the Yemenis, so we maintained a good flow throughout the afternoon. We played until dusk and then called it a day. I summoned all the usual Yemenis I’ve been playing with before we left, and got a big group picture of us all, which I’ll try to get up on Facebook ASAP. I also gave the football cleats I bought at the beginning of my stay to “Ronaldo”, real name Ahnab, who had become my friend over the past twelve weeks playing football together. He was quite excited to say the least and gave me a big kiss on the cheek and a hug before we headed our separate ways. The guys were quite bummed to here I wouldn’t be around anymore, but I’m sure the game will go on, although the quality of play may decline a bit without my presence (haha). To finish up my final Friday, a bunch of the students and I went to an Indian restaurant and had a delicious dinner. After dinner  an interesting episode occurred when I was talking to a new female student from Japan. She does not speak English, so we were communicating with each other in Arabic, and I found it quite cool/fascinating that you have these two people, one from the States and one from Japan, and they are using Arabic as their common language to communicate. In summary, this weekend was a great example of the things I am going to miss about Yemen.

Now, I have four days left --only three days of lessons-- before I head back to the States. I am proud to say I am staying focused, still doing 2-3 hours of studying each day in addition to my lessons. My experience here has monumentally improved my study habits, which is good thing is considering the academic challenges I will face in Chicago next year. Other than that, I’m starting to pack up my stuff and prepare for the trip home.

Congrats to Jenna on her HUGE P.R. (17:11 -5k) at Penn Relays, making me a very proud boyfriend to say the least. Also, hats off to Brink for the new Men’s Outdoor 5k record, and to Jake for breaking Brink’s record 15mins later (I hope you beat him up for that Brink, especially because it was by .3 secs or something ridiculous).

Take care everyone, the next time you hear from me, it may be in person!
Rich

Pictures here:
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Countdown is On....

Hello All,

What is new?

Danny is gone. I only have one week left. Crazy Mohamad is getting on my nerves, and I officially have my exit visa for my departure.

I guess I’ll begin with last Wednesday, which was Danny’s last day here. Because of this, Crazy Mo’s wife made a huge lunch for Danny, and a bunch of people came and feasted. After the lunch, I bought my jambiyya and robe, so I now officially have all the parts of the Yemeni garb, which I plan to bust out for special occasions in the U.S. Maybe I’ll wear it to Tommy and Carolyn’s wedding. Anyway, after lunch, Crazy Mo, Danny, Ghaleb (teacher who Danny and I both have), and I went over to Ghaleb’s house and chewed qat. The main conversation during the chew was about America. Danny and I were trying to explain to Ghaleb and Mohammad that the U.S. isn’t this fantasy land where everyone is rich and happy. A large portion of the Yemenis I have spoken to, even the educated teachers, have this image of everyone in the U.S. having a high standard of living and great life. When in reality, if you are an immigrant, it is difficult to live and succeed in America. In addition, the power went out while we were chewing, so we just sat there and hung out by candle light. In the past few weeks, the power has gone out 4-5x, which is odd because it didn’t happen at all my first two months here. Anyway, around dinnertime, Mo, Danny and I left Ghaleb’s house and walked to a restaurant near the school.

Things got interesting in the restaurant, when for the first time in Yemen, I had a Yemeni be hostile towards me. We were sitting there eating and all of a sudden this guy comes up and just starts shouting at Danny and me. This made Mo very upset, so he told the guy to shut up and leave. Then Mohammad got up and started tugging on the guys beard, sweet fighting move. When the guy refused to shut up, Mohammad literally took him by his jacket and forcefully removed him from the restaurant. Luckily, the guy didn’t fall into the road when Mohammad threw him out because a car shot by a half second later. Danny and I were not able to understand the guy as he was speaking hard core colloquial, but Mohammad told us that the guy had been ranting about how we weren’t welcome in Yemen because we were foreign spies. How about that? I must admit, the guy was on to us, luckily Mohammad didn’t believe him. After this we went to the internet and showed Mohammad how to use the G-Mail account we set up for him so we can talk to him when we are in the U.S. We closed out the night hanging outside the school chatting. Mohammad was bummed out because Danny was leaving, plus he was coming down off the qat, so that didn’t help his emotions. In the end, I witnessed three grown Yemeni men get choked up and teary eyed about Danny heading back to the U.S.

Thursday, turned out to be a boring day. I had a lesson with Ghaleb at 11am and then I napped most of the day. Stayed in the house, just relaxing for the first time in a while, because usually I chew qat on Thursdays, but because I chewed yesterday, I decided against it.

On Friday, I reviewed my Arabic lessons and played soccer by myself at Club Al-Ahli. I am now officially the only one who still goes to play every weekend, so it was just me with a bunch of Yemenis. We played on the “basketball” court, 4 v 4, and it was a lot of fun. Abdul Rizq (from the school) and Mohammad came to watch me play, but were kicked out shortly after arriving because Abdul Rizq was chewing qat. It turns out that is illegal at the club. In the evening, I went with Mohammad and “supervised” him as he sent an e-mail to Danny in the States. Afterwards we grabbed dinner together.

On Saturday, Mohammad starting annoying me. He had gone to his home village of Hiyma for the day and proceeded to call me about 20x from different numbers because he does not own a phone. When I finally got a hold of him, he asked me to give 1000 rials ($5) to his son, but wouldn’t tell me why. Then Abdul Rizq told me that he had seen a man hassling Mohsin (Mo’s son) asking where his Dad was because he owed him money. Not to mention the fact that Mohammad has yet to pay me back the money Danny lent him to buy wood and a saw for a business venture Mohammad began in his village. Anyway, I felt bad that Mohsin was being hassled, so I gave him the money to pay the guy. Then last night, when I was in my room doing homework, Mohammad kept calling up to my room looking for me. This really annoyed me because I respect my privacy and I don’t want to be hassled by Mohammad about his problems whenever he sees my bedroom light come on. After ignoring him most the night, I finally responded before bed to find out that he wanted to tell me he couldn’t get the internet to work when he had gone to the internet cafe that evening. While Mohammad has been a good friend to me so far, and has helped me out with Arabic, he is starting to irritate me. First, I’m pretty sure that I am not going to see the money he owes Danny, plus, now that Danny is gone, he is constantly calling/looking for me all of the time. With only one week left, I don’t want to be dragged into Mohammad’s problems, whether big or small. I liked it much more when we were “street” friends, meaning we would hang out if I saw him on the street and maybe chew qat on the weekend. I can do without this constant hounding.

Also in breaking news, as aforementioned, I received my exit visa to leave Yemen. What I did not mention was how big of a pain in the butt/rip off it was to obtain it. Yesterday morning, I gave “stern” Mohammad from the school my passport and 2000 rial for him to  get me my exit visa --the normal procedure for students. Well, half way through my first class, “stern” Mohammad came in and pulled me from class saying we had to go to the airport. It turns out that when I returned from Ethiopia the idiot(s) at the airport  stamped my Entry Visa with the date 2/30/07, instead of 3/30/07, the actual date when I returned. As a result, the Ministry of Tourism wouldn’t give Mohammad my Exit Visa until I got my passport fixed. Therefore, we took a taxi to the airport where THEY CHARGED ME 2000 rial to fix the problem they created in the first place. In addition to all this, I had to pay for the taxi back and forth to the airport, so in all I ended up spending about 4500r extra because of the mistake of some incompetent airport employee. These events epitomize why I am ready to head home.

As for the Arabic, it continues to go well. I have been making great progress with both of my teachers, and with only a little over a week of classes left, I’m just trying to stay focused and get as much as I can out of my last few hours. It is going to be weird, to say the least, to be back in the United States and all of a sudden not speaking this language I have used/studied everyday for the past three months. I am trying to prepare myself for the culture shock, which I know is going to hit hard after being home for a couple days. Plus, I’m a bit worried about being held up at customs after receiving an e-mail from Danny the other day in which he said he got hung up for hours before being let through. What is so suspicious about 23 yr old white males studying Arabic with large daggers and pictures of Sadaam Hussein in their bags?! Come on now, I'll have a beat up Phillies cap on (evidence enough I am harmless), so just let me through so I can see my family.

Congrats, to the QU runners who made it into Penn Relays. I will be with you in spirit! Enjoy running in the best and biggest track meet in the world.

Hey Sinko, congrats on finishing Boston. It didn't look fun. I followed your race on the athlete tracker from here. I can't wait to come home and start training seriously again. Hopefully you'll be refreshed by the time I get back. Did you guys move the store yet?

A quick and funny note about the Arabic language I almost forgot to mention -- all body parts that come in pairs are feminine in Arabic, except for womens breasts, which are masculine. Go figure.

I’m out.
Rich

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Weekend and Ish

The weekend: This past holiday (as they call it in Yemen), turned out to be enjoyable. On Thursday morning, I had a lesson with my teacher Adel. To mix it up we read from the Quran. In the end, I didn’t get to read much because my teacher kept getting so excited that he'd explain everything in English to me. So I only got to read for 45 min of the two hour class. He also said a few outrageous things during the class worth mentioning. First, he said there is a Sheik in Yemen, named Sheik Zaydani, who, according to him, has found cures for both AIDS and Diabetes! Adel said that this was common knowledge and many doctors have come to Yemen to discuss his findings. Some of them have even converted to Islam while here. I have a feeling this story would receive more press if it were true. Another good one was about how he saw a satellite picture of the Earth on TV and the whole thing was dark except for Mecca and Medina. He stated that this is because the Quran says these are the cities of light. Hence, they were the only lit parts on the satellite picture. Finally, we read about the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus in the Quran.  In the verse, she eats dates before giving birth to Jesus (Isa in Arabic). Adel then went on to tell me doctors have recommended that women should eat dates a couple days before they give birth to help induce labor. Needless to say, I think Adel needs to stop believing everything he sees on the internet and TV. It is good to be devout, but he throws out some truly amazing stories/theories sometimes. In his defense, outside these outrageous moments, he is a great teacher. 

Anyway, enough about Adel. After lunch, Danny and I went with Abdul Baree, a friend of ours who lives near school. He is a taxi driver, hence he owns a car, so we went with him to the mountain over looking Wadi Dahr and chewed qat in the afternoon. It was a great experience, because the view of the Wadi (valley) was amazing from the mountain, and we just sat there, enjoyed the view and talked. It was also great practice, and even Danny and I rarely talked in English to each other. We also got a lot of attention like usual from the other people there (it is a popular overlook), who were amused by the foreigners chewing qat and speaking Arabic. I also got my picture taken with a hawk on my shoulder, awesome!

On Friday, it was soccer day like usual. Danny, Ben, Timbo and I went over to Al-Ahli to play. We got asked to play by the minister again on the big field. Except this time, our team consisted of us, and the Yemeni guys from the street we usually play with, versus the Minister’s sons team. His son’s team had an average age of about 12 yrs old, needless to say, we finally won a game on the big field. The final score was 12-2, and we gave those young bucks a good schlaking, and felt quite good about ourselves. It got quite ridiculous when it was about 7-1 and they put in a kid that was about 9 yrs old and 3 ft tall into goal. At that point it was obvious they were conceding the victory. Plus all the Yemenis on our team just sat up front and tried to score the whole time after we had the lead, so Danny, Tim and I were left to defend (Ben was up front cherry picking with the Yemenis). One kid even got thrown off by the minister after I juked him about three times and he tried to take me out with a sweeping leg kick, which I dodged (like Chuck Norris aka. Mr. Driscoll), and pushed him to the side. We ended up playing for almost two hours on the big field, so I was wiped out by the end. I forgot how good of a workout playing soccer can provide if you keep moving the whole time. I watched a Champions League game the other day, and they tracked how far the players had covered, and some of them had “run” 12k-13k, pretty impressive.

After the game, Danny and I had dinner with Ryan, who had a crazy story from his excursion to the Saudi border with Jez and Anna. After he had left them, he went into this little town for fish, and was detained by men he at first thought were police. It turned out that after driving him around for two hours in their SUV, he decided they weren’t actually police/army, so when they stopped in a small town, he jetted across the street from his “capturers” into a hospital and luckily they didn’t follow him in. There is a chance he was literally being kidnapped, scary stuff. Then he hitched a ride down to Manaka, where he decided to go for a hike in the surrounding, by himself, not a smart idea Ryan. When the fog rolled in from the Red Sea, he got lost, and wasn’t able to find a road till that evening. At which point he was lucky enough to hitch another ride with some guys that he swears were transporting illegal drugs into Sana’a. He showed my text messages he sent during his “travels” and it seems like he is telling the truth for the most part. Crazy stuff, I’m happy I didn’t tag along with him.

As for this week, it has been the same old. Just pounding Arabic like a champ, biding my time till I leave in almost two weeks! I can’t believe I’ve been here for two and a half months. Although, time has not flown by here because all of the studying has made time creep along during the week. My sidekick, Danny actually leaves in two days, which is a bummer because he is definitely my closest friend here. We hang out most days, and to be honest he has really helped me with my studies by giving me ideas from his more extensive experience studying the language. The only bad thing is that his anticipation of leaving has rubbed off on me some, so lately I’ve been really antsy to head back to the States. In reality though, I have two weeks and only 42 hours of Arabic left, so before I know it I’ll be on my home (inshallah).

A couple random things, I got my lined up the other day at the Barbershop (shout out to Mio), it was amazing what this Yemeni man could do with scissors and a straight blade. He was a mix of Issac, Cedric the Entertainer, and Ice Cube put together into one super barber. So I will be looking good when I come home.
Also, I finally took my first ride on a motorbike in Sana’a. My friend Gillam, actually bought a motorbike a while ago, so when we went to lunch today I rode on the back. To be honest, I was quite nervous. With the way people drive around here, I never really got comfortable sitting on the back of the bike thinking about skidding out when some crazy Yemeni rammed into us or something. Luckily, I made it safely to lunch. I don’t think I’ll be taking any more motorbike rides though before I leave. I wouldn’t mind if I was driving, but being the passenger is a bit nerve racking.

In response to Todd, the temperature here is similar to San Diego, it pretty much stays the same year round. 75-80 deg and sunny during the days and 50-55 deg in the evening. There is no humidity, which is very nice, but they do have rainy seasons, where it rains almost everyday. Personally, I have really enjoyed the weather, especially considering I got to skip out on the brutal winter in the Northeast. Plus, Todd, you would love the place because the ancient architecture is amazing.

That is it for now. Try to stay out of the rain folks, it looks like the weather is nasty in the Northeast. My heart goes out to all the people who ran the Boston Marathon. That did not look like much fun.
Rich

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Daily Life

Hiyo all,

I had free time tonight so I figured I'd give everyone I quick update.

To begin with, the weather has been crazy lately.  We have had a sort of mini-rainy season, during which it has rained for 15-30min every afternoon. This means one of the main roads in town, the Sila, has turned into a river a couple times which is an amazing sight. They don't have any sewers so the roads are actually cambered towards the middle, the opposite of the States. This means that all the water filters down the center of the roads, which is really nice, especially when you have to walk somewhere. Anyway, most of the roads run down towards the Sila, which is usually a main road, but has built up walls and becomes a literal river when it rains a lot. The best part about it is that the Yemeni's still try to drive down it when its filled up. The other day we watched as people tried to push their cars along b/c they had stalled out in the water. I've actually almost been enjoying the rain though b/c it is a change from the 75deg and sunny every single day (I bet you guys in the Northeast hate me for saying such unfathomable things).

Also the other night, I went with a couple of other students to get pizza. On our way back we stopped at SnoCream on Hadda St (the high class st. in Sana'a), to get "ice cream". The place had an amazing ambiance about it. First off, it is the first ever sit down ice cream restaurant I've been to, meaning you ordered like you were at dinner but all they had was ice cream. Second, it was the first time I've seen more than two women in a restaurant. There were at least twenty women there eating ice cream, most with nikaabs on, so it was pretty funny as they would lift up their nikaabs to take bites of ice cream. On top of this, they only actually had vanilla ice cream, but put on different colored "dressings" to make it chocolate, strawberry, etc. Pretty awesome. Overall though, I was just happy to eat something that resemble ice cream.

What else, the other night on the way to the Kabob Souq, Danny and I came across two kids selling Sadaam Hussein stickers, which are a hot item in Yemen, but are disappearing fast now that it has been a while since his execution, so we each got four. I think my favorite one I got is a family portrait of the whole Hussein family, priceless. Now I need to make sure I hide them well enough on my trip back to the States or else I might get stuck at Customs for quite a while, in between the Sadaam pictures and the jambiyyas.

I continue to keep meeting amazing people. Last night a bunch of us watched a documentary called "The Diary of Jo Whiting", which was filmed, directed and produced by this British journalist, Julia, who is currently studying Arabic at CALES. It has become pretty popular among human rights activists as it follows the travels of Jo Whiting, a young British woman, who is a law student who started protesting the sanctions on Iraq beginning in 2001 and later went to Iraq before the war to protest that obviously as we all know, the war was illegal because it went against the central tenants of the Geneva Convention. The documentary follows her travels in Iraq, before, during and after the war. Pretty heavy stuff. It was well put together and won best documentary at the Al-Jezeera film festival last year. I could go on for a while about it, but instead I'll direct you to the website which does a better job explaining the film: http://alettertotheprimeminister.co.uk/index.htm
I'm hoping to get a copy to bring back to the States with me.

Finally, the last bit of news is that I want to let my former teammates know that I am gearing up to do warmups and cooldowns with the at NEC's in May. I ran three times this week baby, which ties my record for Yemen. Hopefully I can keep getting in 3-4 runs a week so that I'm not totally out of shape when I get home and start officially training for my first marathon, Chicago 2007, October 7th, watch out world.

Oh, and one last thing. Being in a foreign place definitely throws you off because although I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, I completely forgot about Easter. If it wasn't for the phone calls from Jna, Dad and Mom, Easter would have passed by without a thought. Pretty embarrassing considering I went to Catholic school for 12 years.

Other than that, take care all. I put up pictures from my trip to the mountains on Facebook, so for all the college readers, check them out. I'm working on getting them up on Snapfish.

Later,

Rich

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back to the Grind/ The Haraz Mountains

Hello Everyone,

I can't believe that I have only three and a half weeks left in Yemen. While time definitely hasn't flown by because of all the studying, I'll be on the plane back to the states before I know it.

My last post covered my stay in Ethiopia/arriving back to Sana'a. While on that Saturday I settled back into my daily routine of Arabic, Arabic, and more Arabic. I was a bit nervous at having taken time off in Ethiopia, but after almost two weeks back, I truly feel like the break after helped me absorb a lot of the material I learned. Especially in my speaking; before I left a felt like I was at a bit of a plateau, but since coming back I've been "ripping" Arabic like a champ. My new teachers have been impressed with how quickly I have progressed in two months and with the ability to speak. I still have a very long way to go and really need to work on listening and writing, but I am making progress everyday. One of the keys to my success so far has been my vocab system which I adopted from Danny. Everyday I review my vocab cards, which I have in five piles ranging from words I don't know at all, to words I have memorized. Each day when I review them, if I get them right, they move along to the next pile, and if I get them wrong they move back a pile. Finally, if I get them right for a week straight they go into the memorized pile. Alright got that, good! I think this may be the biggest reason why my speaking has been improving so quickly. Usually, it takes about 45mins to get through my cards, so the time has definitely been worth the sacrifice.

As for last week, nothing too exciting occurred. I started working with two new teachers, Adil and Ghaleb, who I both really like. With Adil I do an assortment of things (read the Quran, headlines from Al-Jezzera, stories, discussion, etc) and with Ghaleb I focus solely on one book (Al-Kitaab) which is what I will use in graduate school. I am quite happy to have changed from my teacher Mohssin, because he had bad hygiene to say the least. He was constantly picking his nose, picking at his face, etc. which really made it hard to concentrate in class, so before I left for Ethiopia I asked to change and was granted my wish. As for Ghaleb, I ended up with him because one of the girls here hasn't gotten along with any of her teachers and my old teacher Abdul Rahman was the only teacher she hadn't had (she's been here 9 months), so we switched. This didn't bother me because Danny has Ghaleb, and he came highly recommended. In summary, I am very satisfied with both teachers I am currently working with.

The only real thing of note from last week occurred when I was walking back from a run. The traffic on the road was all backed up and then a saw this large procession of people walking down the street and singing. Then I saw that it was a funeral procession, and the men were carrying what looked like a normal small single bed over their heads with the body on top of it with a sheet over it. It was amazing because obviously the bed frame and the body were heavy, so men from the street and in the procession would alternate passing the bed over their hands, constantly switching positions from the front to the back. Quite interesting.

This past weekend, I kept with the traveling theme and went to the Haraz Mountains with Philip and Wolfgang, two German guys who are doing an internship for a month with a architecture firm in Sana'a. At the last minute they told me they were going so I tagged along even though I didn't get a travel permit (luckily that wasn't a problem). We left on Wednesday around 2pm and got to Hajjarah, a small town up on the top of this mountain by 5pm. The ride out wasn't bad, although at times I got a bit nervous when our driver would pass other cars on hairpin turns on these mountain roads with like a 1000ft drop right next to us. But "praise to Allah" we made it safely to our destination in one piece, no worse for the wear. I have come to the realization that there is no comfortable way to travel in Yemen, because like usual we crammed four people into the cab of the truck, but by now I've gotten used to annoying things like this when traveling.

As for the mountains, I can honestly say that they may have been the most beautiful, sublime place I've ever been. It was surrounded by mountains and provided amazing views everywhere you looked. Coupled with the way the sides of the mountains were terraced in levels so that the people could farm on them and these tiny towns that were built on the very tops of these huge mountains. Amazing stuff. The first night there we walked around town for a bit and just got our bearings. That night after dinner, two guys who worked at the hotel played the "ud" like a guitar and the drums for us. I really liked the music, it had a great rhythm to it. In the hotel, it was only us, and a couple French dudes.

The next day we got up early and headed out for a hike through the mountains. We were lead by Khaled, a guy from the town, who we had driven with the day before. Also with us was Ahmed, who was the brother of a guy Philip knew in Sana'a. He was with us the whole trip, but we didn't pay him or anything, so he was more like a friend along with us, and not a guide. We went on about a four hour hike, up and along the side of this huge mountain next to the town we were staying in. We went through a couple ancient towns which were absolutely amazing. Especially Qahil, which is nearly abandoned, so we were able to go into the old houses and everything. Then we went up and over to another town which had been founded by Indian Muslims and was a pilgrimage site for people from India. In that town there was this amazing mosque which was built on the top of this HUGE rock. When we walked in it looked like it was impossible to get up there, but once in the town we were lead by the sheik up to the top. It turned out there were these really steep steps on the backside which we used to make our way up. The view from the top was fantastic. After this we hitched a ride from the town with some metal workers in the back of a pickup truck to Manaqa. In the back was a guy who looked just like Flavor Flave, I kid you not with his safety glasses on (someday my computer will work again and I'll put up pictures). Back in Manaqa (the town next to Hajjarah) we bought qat for after lunch and then took a taxi to the hotel. At the hotel we ate lunch and then chewed qat until almost dinner time. Today there were a ton of tourists at the hotel (I think the place was full). I know this is completely hypocritical but I hate tourists. I think my resentment is fueled by the fact that I am actual able to speak Arabic and live in Sana'a, so as I always say to the Yemenis, "I am a tribesman" (they get quite a kick out of hearing that). Anyway, the place was loaded with French, British, and German tourists, so unfortunately we didn't have the place to ourselves anymore. In the evening, after dinner, the same guys rocked out again, except this time there were a bunch of guys from the town there that sang along with them and did all the traditional dances, etc. It was pretty sweet and Philip and I even got out there and attempted to dance with them, although I'd say we weren't that successful. Plus a lot of the tourists were older, so they headed to their rooms around 9pm or so, and then for about an hour and a half there were only a half dozen or so of us down there having a good time. Unfortunately, Wolfgang was sick (from all the sun/dehydration/hiking), so he spent the whole day in bed when we got back from the hike.

The next morning, Philip, Ahmed, Khaled and I headed out on another hike, this time in the opposite direction. Our second hike was easier and took us through more of the countryside. Most of the time we just talked and ambled along at a leisurely pace. The best site of the day were these fluorescent colored "lizards", that had bright pink tails and aqua blue heads, crazy. We saw at least four of them along the way and got good pictures. Plus, Ahmed was a bit nuts and kept us entertained on the hike and during the whole trip. He would just go off on these rants, half in Arabic, half in English, usually about girls or qat. His English was decent, but he sounded similar to an Arab version of Borat, so as you can imagine it was pretty hilarious when he would start ranting. He also would randomly say: "Welcome" "Where are you from?" out of nowhere, imitating all the people in Sana'a who constantly ask us (foreigners) these questions about a hundred times a day and every time he would do it we would bust out laughing. Anyway, the hike was nice and we got back to the hotel for lunch. Ate a quick lunch of mostly Western food and then hopped into a hired truck to take us back to Sana'a. The trip back went by quickly and before I knew it I was once again back in the Old City. Unfortunately, like usual we got in a big argument over the price of the car b/c the driver expected us to pay for the Yemenis who were with us and we obviously refused, so finally after about 20mins of haggling we paid an in between price and headed on our way.

Two other awesome things about the trip were, 1) this 73 yr old who worked at the hotel and was hilarious. He had the typical Yemeni look, weathered skin from the sun, sunken cheeks from chewing so much qat, one tooth (only 1) and quite frail. He was constantly cracking jokes and talking in different European languages which he had picked up from his time at the hotel. The best is when he would speak in French. He also still lead tourist on day long hikes in the mountains almost everyday and slept in a tin box on top of the garage/kitchen outside the hotel. AMAZING! The other great thing about the trip is that Philip and Wolfgang don't speak much Arabic, so I got two full days of constantly speaking/practicing my Arabic all the time.

Now back to the weekend, when I got back I went into Philip's house, he lives with Ryan, and Anna and Jez were there (buddies from Ethiopia), so I grabbed dinner with them and then we watched a movie and talked for a bit. They were all in pretty bad shape though because they had went to some American military officers party the night before, gotten quite intoxicated, then snuck in to the American military base in Sana'a with the help of a couple Marines from the party, but got kicked out when they were causing a ruckus on the base. Crazy stuff, luckily from them they weren't arrested. So needless to say, they were a bit hungover/tired from the night before. Tomorrow actually, Ryan is driving with Anna and Jez to the Saudi border, where he plans to then get off b/c he couldn't get a visa and hitch hike back to Sana'a.

As for this week, all is well. I don't think I am going to travel anymore because everywhere I want to go in Yemen is at least 5 hours away by car and that would mean I'd have to take more time off class which I don't want to do because I only have 3 weeks left and I've been making so much progress. So from here on it, it is going to be nose to the grindstone, probably taking lessons on Thursdays too, trying to learn as much as possible before I leave.

I apologize if the grammar of this post is awful. You'll just have to deal with it because I am too lazy to proof read it!

Take Care,

Rich

P.S.- Sounds like the "QU Track Meet" was quite a classic this year, and you guys still have UConn coming up. Ouch! Maybe for once it won't be monsoon like conditions there for your guys sake.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ethiopia - Part Three

Alright, so I'm almost done talking about my trip.

On Thursday, our last day Ryan and I decided to head over to the National Museum in the morning. We tried to walk there but couldn't find it so finally we hailed a taxi to take us there. The main attraction at the museum were the fossils of "Lucy" the oldest known homonid (3.2mil yrs). So technically she was the first human, although a very funny looking one. She was only 1.1meters tall and hairy, thank the lord for evolution. I actually got a picture with "her", so I have know officially "hung out" with the first known "human". There was also impressive modern art, mainly paintings by Ethiopian artists in the museum which was quite cool to check out. Other than that the museum had some fossils from ancient creatures which existed in Ethiopia and some modern relics from everyday life in the 19th-20th c. From the museum Ryan and I took a taxi to a hotel which had a spa. Unfortunately, they were all booked so massages, which we had really been looking forward to. From the hotel we walked back to the hotel, quite a distance and just took in Addis before we left in the morning. In the late afternoon it started to rain so we ended up hanging out at the hotel the rest of the night with our traveling friends. A new girl named Lisa was hanging out with us from the U.S., Colorado to be more specific. She went to Denver University and had graduated in 2006, so I randomly asked her if she knew Lami Harmon, a kid I grew up, went to school and played soccer with, and wouldn't you know, her best friend had dated him in college. Now that is the definition of a small world. I am studying in Yemen and came to Ethiopia for the week. She graduated and is traveling through Africa, we randomly bump into each other and both happen to know a childhood friend of mine from Delaware.

Anyway, I headed to bed around midnight after saying goodbye to our friends. The next morning we got up at 5am, got a taxi right outside our hotel (the guy was just sleeping in his cab), and got to the airport by 6am, checked in no problem, hopped on the plane and by 9am we were back in good ole Sana'a arguing in Arabic with cab drivers over the price of a ride to the Baab al Yemen. Amazing how you can just skip from one continent to another in a couple of hours and resume life like nothing ever happened.

After taking a much needed nap, being the trooper that I am, I met up with Danny and we headed over to Al-Ahli and played soccer. We were the only two students who went, so we teamed up with some nasty Yemeni's, who were all playing barefoot and dominated the small sided game for a couple hours. Then the Ministry of Sports (I know we are big time), asked us to play a scrimmage on the big field. We got fluorescent Yellow jerseys and our team consisted of mainly guys we play with on the concrete every weekend. Although our team wasn't bad, all the guys on the team would run up to the front when we had a chance to score and then never come back to help on defense. So during the course of the game I changed my position from striker (where they had assigned) me, to left back, because we had no one back there. The other team was also much more organized and ended up beating us 4-0, although two of their goals were crap. In the end I was happy I went to play b/c it was one of the most enjoyable football "days" I've had in probably a month. No fistfights, yelling or tae kwon do tournaments, sorry Kevin D. We did lose our rubber ball we had bought before heading over, which is hard to do b/c the Yemenis will do anything to get a ball back. I've watched them literally climb up the bars that are over the windows of houses about 20ft high and then carefully hop over a wall with shards of glass on top, all to recover a rubber soccer ball. I'll take some pictures to give you a picture of the amazing/dangerous ball recovering missions I've witnessed.

Now to answer my Father's questions about Ethiopia. We weren't looking for a specific gun, although it would have been nice to find some AK 47's that we could've taken pictures with. We just wanted to find the "gun section" of the market, because Lonely Planet said there was one, so it must be true.

I didn't see a football stadium on the main campus where we were. I have no clue if they organized sports and if so who the hell they compete against.

Yes, many people speak at least a little broken English. I found that almost all the people I met that worked in stores or restaurants were able to speak at least enough conversational English to get by, if not more. Way more people speak English in Addis than in Sana'a. The people were also very friendly, but most weren't as surprised to see tourists like in Sana'a. There were a lot more beggars in Addis too, and it seemed like there was a larger gap between the classes. For instance, you had all these homeless beggars on the street and then the rest of the population was very Westernized, wearing jeans and t-shirts, etc. like anyone in America. Where as in Yemen, the society still maintains a lot of its customs and traditions. Plus, it seems like in Sana'a, most of the people have a generally low standard of living, except for the really rich folks who live out by Hadda Street in the New city.

While I was there I heard no talk about the disruption in Somalia or the troubles in Southern Sudan.

The plane trip was great, especially the one there. On the arriving flight, only half the plane was full, so I sat next to the emergency exit, which had extra leg room. Then on the return flight, my actual seat was next to the emergency exit again, so once again I flew in comfort. The flight itself was only 1.5 hr, calm and we even got served breakfast, consisting of about 5 types of bread.

Also, I heard they do have big celebrations for Easter, but no chocolate bunnies or colored eggs. What are these people thinking, Easter isn't about the resurrection of Jesus! It's all about the candy, egg hunts and good food, to help one get over the fact that the NCAA tournament has come/is coming to an end. These devout Christians obviously don't know how to celebrate a religious holiday. I'll have to tell them that is all about material good and aesthetics.

Now that I'm all caught up, hopefully I'll get back to posting about my daily life in Sana'a this weekend. If you have any questions about Addis please just post them on the comment board and I will respond ASAP.

Adios,

Rich

Monday, April 02, 2007

Addis Ababa - Part اثنان

Okay, back to where I left off the other day.

On our second day in Addis, Ryan and I both were hurting a bit from the night before. I got up before him at about 10am, so I headed over to a cafe we had went the day before and got breakfast on the roof. It was a cool place because from the roof you had a great view. When I got back Ryan had finally got up, so he ate breakfast and then we went with Jez, Anna, Tom and Ester to the Merkato. The largest open air market in Africa. We spent about three hours there, but didn't find anything we actually wanted to see. Twice these "guides", just random men who offered to help us out brought us to the same store. Pretty much like a referral. Quite annoying. Anyway, we never found the gun shops that we initially were looking for and gave up when it started to rain in the afternoon.

For dinner, all of us plus Emily went and got Italian food down the street from our hotel. You can still see a bit of the Italian influence in the country, hence are hotel was right near the "Piazza", which I'm almost positive is not a word of Ethiopian origin. After dinner, Jez and Anna took us on a great car ride up Mount Entonto where we had an awesome view of Addis all lit up at night. It was quite interesting to be driving down this dirt road, pumping Johnny Cash in this old school Mercedes, with everyone looking at us like we are probably aliens. I didn't know this before I came but Ethiopia is an incredibly devout Christian nation. It was one of the first regions to adopt Christianity in the 4th c. AD, and the people are adherent to the religion. When we were up on the mountain a lot of the villagers were wearing these white "blanket" type things over themselves. Anyway, when we got back to the hotel, we hung out with all the travelers and talked the night away.

On Tuesday, Ryan and I were a bit more refreshed and ready to go. In the morning we walked to St. George Cathedral, where we were given a personal tour of the inside (2$). The cathedral is actually closed to civilians, so it was a privilege they give to anyone willing to pay. The cathedral was in the center of this "sanctuary" per say, which was filled with trees and wildlife. Most of the people would walk up to the cathedral, say some prayers as the touched or put their heads against the walls and then would go sit/stand in the grass and pray. The cathedral itself was filled with some pretty amazing artwork which actually combined religious art, with that of Ethiopian history, an interesting mix you don't usually see in Churches. For instance, there was a painting of Emperor Haile Selaisse being crowned, followed by some huge mural of St.George slaying a dragon. From lunch we got a delicious lunch at an outdoor cafe (they are very popular and can be found all over in Addis), where we had nice mixed salads and watched the locals go on with their daily lives, especially the beautiful Ethiopian women (seriously, the ladies were gorgeous, but this might also have been b/c I haven't seen a women who wasn't fully covered for 6 weeks). After lunch we walked up to Addis Ababa University and checked out the campus. The school used to be Haile Selaisse's palace, but then after an attempted coup and much student protesting about the government, he donated it to the University. Smart move, good way to buy off the people. The campus was gorgeous, with all sorts of trees, plants, etc. Very green, so different from Yemen. I was really impressed by the aesthetics of the campus. From the University we walked around for another couple of hours before finally heading home.
During our walk we went through some of the "shanty towns" in Addis. There are these huge conglomerations of tin shacks/houses, which are just clumped together in mass. So we walked through them and I took a good amount of pictures which hopefully I'll be able to put up in two weeks, inshallah. As for the evening, Ryan and I just ate at the hotel, fraternized a bit (Jez and Anna left for Djibouti, bummer), so we went to bed nice and early. I also bought a sweet t-shirt which says, Ethiopia on the top with a huge picture of Haile Selassie, and then underneath the picture, "Emperor".

Alright, on to Wednesday. Ryan, Sara and I decided we wanted to head out of town, so we took a public bus to a village about an hour out of town called Debre Zeyit. When we got there we ate at a place called Dreamland, which was this really nice restaurant located in the middle of nowhere off of a dirt road. The place was amazing though, with a deck overlooking the countryside with this huge lake smack in front of us, surrounded by mountains. We watched the villagers take their oxen to the lake for water, and little kids diving off the rocks and swimming in the lake. After a scenic and delicious lunch, we headed off for Lake Babagaya. It took us four mini buses to get to our destination b/c they all wanted to charge us an exorbitant sum to take us right to the lake. We didn't want to be driven straight there though, because for much cheaper you can take horse and carriage to the lake. So finally, on our fourth mini bus trip, we got to the place with the horses and took a horse and carriage (w/ a driver), through the countryside to what we thought was the lake. He dropped us off at this resort and we were quite surprised. Unfortunately, it turned out he had taken us to the wrong Lake (Yriftu), and you had to be guests to swim in it. Luckily he was waiting for us and took us over to the correct lake. Once there, we walked down this little dirt path and then actually had to pay this man 3 birr to use the lake. Good ole capitalism, it has even spread to the villages of Ethiopia. The place must have been a popular spot for locals and travelers though b/c there was even two little boats you could take out. Anyway, we went swimming in this huge, beautiful lake surrounded by the mountains for a while and then air dried on the shore. When we were done, our trusting horse and carriage driver was waiting for us to take us back. He took us to the village where we grabbed a minibus to the main road. From there we grabbed another minibus to the Addis which turned out to be a pretty miserable trip because they packed us in like sardines. Literally the "bus" was probably made for 10 people and we had at least 16 in it. So you couldn't move at all, I couldn't get the window open and we got stuck in traffic so it took us twice as long to get back. I was feeling quite claustrophobic the last bit of the trip when we were hit the traffic jam.

Anyway, we arrived home in the evening, went out to dinner with an assortment of different travelers, some old, some new. After dinner we went to The Cave, a dive bar near our hotel. Inside it was almost pitch black with these tiny rooms and crazy ceiling which was supposed to look like the wall of a actual cave. While it was quite seedy, they had random people from the bar singing, and I couldn't believe how good they were. They really had great voices and they had memorized all the words to the songs they were singing. So for about a half an hour we danced with this absolute crazy old guy, who at one point gave me a huge bear hug. Great stuff. Then from the Cave everyone decided to call it a night, so we actually got to bed pretty early once again (11:30pm)

I think I have carpal tunnel, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Shout out to Jna for the big 5k debut victory! And also to Brink and Dris who also had quite impressive season debuts over at SCSU. It looks like this is going to be a big season for the 5th years, I can't wait to watch you guys run at NEC's.

**Oh, I just heard from Ryan that Anna and Jez got a dhow from Djibouti to Aden and should be in Sana'a in a couple of days. SWEET!

Take Care,

Rich

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Holiday in Ethiopia - Part 1

Hello my loyal readers,

I am happy to report that I have returned from Ethiopia no worse for the wear. Actually, I feel refreshed and ready to dominate my last five weeks of lessons in Sana'a.

As for my trip to Addis, it was amazing. Caution, I don't have any crazy stories about adventures in Africa, because for the most part I just enjoyed the simple things which are denied in daily life in Yemen. Like drinking wine and beer, eating pizza and burgers and looking and talking to women. Little things like this that I hadn't realized how much I missed them until I got to Addis.

I arrived in Addis on Sunday morning, after getting up at 4:30am and heading to the airport for my flight. The night before we had played in a soccer tournament at the British Club in Sana'a, called the Lion and Jambiyya Club, on a lit tennis court. We got second, the damn Italians outclassed us. I didn't get back till late from that, so I only had about 3 hours of sleep before heading to the airport. Anyway, we (Ryan and I) had no problems in our travels and after having a proper cup of coffee at Bole International Airport, took a taxi to the Le Gare Hotel. Luckily, as it would turn out, this hotel was full so we went over to the Baro Hotel, which was described by Lonely Planet as a hot spot for thrifty travelers. Turns out that this decision turned out to be clutch in us having an amazing trip. There were no rooms in the hotel available till 8pm, so we left our bags at the front desk and headed out for a walk around town guided by some friendly locals who wait outside the hotel for visitors. There names were Yonis and Papi, and were both high schoolers who hung out around the hotel and practiced there English with the travelers. They took us to Pizza Corner, just what I wanted!!, where we had a couple beers and a big pizza. Now this doesn't sound exciting, but when you haven't had anything like this for almost two months, it is quite fulfilling. We spent most of the afternoon walking around with them until retiring for a nap on the padded benches on the hotel's "patio". Later in the evening we met a Ethiopian guy (his name eludes me) who was from the Hammer tribe down south and had actually made a documentary about his tribe. He was waiting for his visa from England, where he would be heading to work with National Geographic for 6 months, pretty awesome. He took us out to a restaurant near by where we had burgers and drank local beer (Jambo, St. George, Dashen). From the restaurant we went to a bar called the Blue Nile and listened to a great mix of music (Ethiopian, reggae, and Western) while drink more and more. Plus we laughed about all the prostitutes walking around the place trying to show their stuff, although most of them were quite unattractive. In Addis prostitution is a pretty big business but there will be more on that later. After consuming copious amounts of beer (at least I'm being honest), we headed back to the hotel and hung out with a bunch of the travelers who were sitting on the patio having a good time. At the hotel there was a little kitchen with food and drinks, so most of the travelers spent their nights fraternizing with others on the patio.

Now one of the key aspects of this trip being so great was the people, so now I'll introduce the cast of characters we hung out with and their stories:
1) Ana (31yr) and Jez (34yr)- Ana (English) was a doctor who had been working in Johannesburg as a doctor for 10months and her boyfriend Jez (Canadian, lived in England) was a musician/dj. These two were definitely the life of the party and a lot of fun to hang out with. They had bought an old Mercedes, put an awesome sound system in it and were traveling from JoBurg, South Africa all the way home to England by car. When we met them in Addis, they had just spontaneously got married the day before on a whim by a Christian monk who spoke no English. From Addis they were heading to Djibouti City where they were getting on a cargo ship and sailing to Aden, Yemen (we should see them again in Sana'a). From Aden they are planning to drive up the coast along the Red Sea through the Middle East, into Turkey and then across Europe home. Now if that isn't an inspiring and awesome trip, I don't know what is. When we met them they had been having a great time, with no problems, except for spending an exorbitant amount of money.
2) Tom and Esther- Tom was a English guy who had just finished up a 4 month stint working the NGO "Save the Children" in Kenya. When it was over he headed up towards Ethiopia but couldn't get across the border b/c they didn't grant visas at the border, you have to get them from the embassy. While at the border time he met Jez and Ana, and somehow allowed them to convince him to try and smuggle himself across the border. So, with two sketchy Kenyans he met, at night he ran across the border and actually met up with Jez and Ana in a small border town in Ethiopia successfully. Unfortunately, he still needed to get a visa if he wanted to ever leave Ethiopia, so he went to get one in Addis and was arrested. He was let go but had to report to court where he got a 3,000birr fine and was asked to leave the country in 7 days. Crazy stuff. Along with him was Ester (Dutch), a girl who was teaching in Southern Ethiopia and had randomly run into Ana, Jez and Tom. Her and Tom hit it off and she had been staying at her hotel with him since he had been in Addis.

3) Emily, who was a 26yr old Irish chick. She had taken a year off of work and decided to travel Africa solo. She also started in South Africa. When we met her she had just spent 6 weeks traveling around Uganda. From Ethiopia she was flying to Egypt and then traveling through the north of the Middle East (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria), before heading into Turkey and through Europe back to Ireland.

4) Sara- Same age as Ryan and I, had went to Wesleyan for two years and then decided to take time off. Well, it turned into two years of traveling Asia, the M.E. and Africa. She had learned both Arabic and French along her travels and had been all over, including Yemen where she plans to live at some point. She was wicked into religion/spiritualism and was converting to Islam. She had a very different view pertaining to Islam and the M.E. than would be expected from a Western girl.

5) Tons of other people, but I've identified the main characters in my stay. The cool thing is we now know at least 3 people who are planning on coming to Sana'a at some point in the near future, so I'm looking forward to showing them around.

Thus, this is the reason we were so lucky for picking the Baro Hotel. The hotel was also great b/c it was 10$ a night and provided us with a bed, shower, personal bathroom and the little restaurant. The only sketchy thing about it was that it also served as a bit of a brothel. During our stay there you would constantly see Ethiopian "couples" coming in and out, only staying for an hour or two if you know what I mean. If this wasn't evidence enough of some ficky fick going on, there were about 3 packets of condoms provided in the rooms, hint, hint. So as I slipped into bed each not I tried to think happy thoughts, far away from the reality of what my bed may have been priorly used for, but I'm guessing there was a reason my bed dipped down big time in the middle.

That wraps up my first day in Addis. My trip will have to be done in installments because there is so much to write. For my fellow runners, I did see a billboard with Geb on it while I was driving in and impressed a few people with my knowledge of Ethiopian athletes. Until next time take care all.

Good luck at SCSU today.

Also I will be attending University of Chicago next year. Driscoll and Gwyth, you'll have to Amtrak it down to the city for some runs on the Lakefront.

Rich

Friday, March 23, 2007

Irony!

Alright,

Sorry if I got anyones hopes up but this isn't going to be a long post. I just saw something though that I had to comment on.

Just now as I was walking back from getting my breakfast a UN SUV passed me. Then in the back window what do I see? A nice old picture of Sadaam Hussein baby! How is that for irony, considering the UN put sanctions on his regime for only, hmmm, about 12 years. Good stuff.

Oh also, I heard from all of the American grad schools. I got into GW, but didn't receive any scholarships so it looks like it is still between Chicago and Michigan. Inside sources say Chicago is opening a gap in the polls, but we'll have to see what happens in the next few weeks.

I leave for Ethiopia in two days!! I bought a 1gb memory stick for my camera the other day, so unless I take over 400+ pics, I should be good to go. And yes, I will be keeping my eyes open for Haile, Kenny B, Shihine and the rest of the gang. Considering I've been run 3 times in the past 2 weeks and played football twice, I think I could give them a run for their money.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Things I dislike about Sana'a

So far I have mainly only put good things about Sana'a up on here. Now it is time to write about some of the less attractive things in the city.

1. The Cars/Motorbikes- The aspect of Sana'a I hate the most is the traffic in the city. The streets in the old city and new city are absolutely packed with cars from about 8am-9pm. It makes walking around quite annoying and a bit dangerous. Not to mention that the sidewalks in the city are inadequate to say the least, so a lot of the time you have to walk on the sides of the roads. Plus, as I have mentioned before, one of the national past times of Yemen is honking, even if there is no reason to honk. You could be all the way to the side of the road, the cars will still make sure to get in a couple honks, just in case you try to dash into the middle of the street. The cars annoy me the most in Old Sana'a because the roads were constructed long before the idea of cars was ever thought of, thus they are quite narrow. I have seen multiple cars get stuck because they try to go down roads which are too tight. There are no sidewalks either, so pedestrians are forced to press themselves up against a wall when I large SUV decides to go by. I wish I could just slash all of their tires, or set up large roadblocks, yet knowing the Yemenis this wouldn't even deter them. The motorbikes are even worse than the cars. They go zooming around the old city using absolutely no caution at all. The honk constantly and their little lawnmower engines create quite the racket because the sound bounces of the buildings down the tiny streets. On top of this, the pollution is pretty awful in the city. Coupled with the dust, it creates a nice constant haze/smog during the daytime.

2. Children (some of them)- Now, don't interpret this wrong, it isn't that I don't like children, I just don't like a large percentage of Yemeni children. There is a reason for this. There are some children like Hamzi (mentioned in the last post) and Hisham (a little 5 yr old who wears a suit and is always selling little packs of tissues near the Baab al Yemen). I'd say it is 50/50 with the kids I like/don't like. The reason I don't like a large amount of the children is because they are plain annoying. They love to come right up to me and yell senseless things in my face. It isn't as if I've never seen this kids either, a lot of them I see almost everyday. Yet they still love to yell at me. It is even worse when they say abusive phrases they have learned in English, but they have no clue what they actually mean (this has only happened a handful of times). The worst time of the day for me is around 6pm, because the streets of Old City are literally like one big romper room. I swear, it is the designated hour for all children to hit the streets ages (2-16), without any adult supervision and just run wild. They must all chew qat after school and then they are to burn off their energy before dinner. While 6pm is the worst time, you will see kids out on the streets at all times. Last night as I walked past the Baab around 11pm, there were a load of kids just playing in the square, many of them quite young. I guess I support more child labor, so at least these children don't bother me so much. ***Another thing, unrelated to me being annoyed by children is their obsession with pictures. They constantly ask me to take pictures of them. Probably because they associate foreigners with cameras. One time I decided to take a picture of a couple of my young friends and literally after I had taken one picture, at least 10! (no lie) kids came running up the street from out of no where screaming (SURA, SURA). Crazy!

3. Trash- The trash everywhere in the city is another aspect of Sana'a which bothers me. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that they have full-time street cleaners, whose soul job is to clean up the streets. This is a good thing because it creates more jobs, but the benefit of the street cleaners is canceled out by the fact that most Yemenis totally abuse this service and throw their trash on the street. Literally, it is common for people to just have a drink or eat a candy bar and then just throw the refuse right into the street. Really nice! So all the work that the street cleaners are doing is pretty much for naught. It is like digging a hole on the beach, but whatever you extract is just filled back in with loose sand. The funny thing is that I read in the paper the other day that the streets of Sana'a are much cleaner since the implementation of a more structured sanitation system. The paper little said that the streets of Old Sana'a "sparkle", HAHAHA!, that is the second best joke I've heard since I've been here. I'm not saying that the place is despicable, but it definitely wouldn't be considered in any way clean, even by city standards. On top of this, people love to throw their trash in vacant places. (I'll need to take pictures for evidence). For instance if there is abandoned walled in property, all the people throw their trash over the wall onto the property, like that solves the problem. When you look from a high vantage point, it is quite appalling. At least you can't see these "dumps" from the street. What they need are public trash cans placed intermittently along the street to complement the street cleaners. Yet considering the Yemenis laziness I don't know if it would help much. Yet still, in their defense I guess, the government has money to put up bill boards telling people not to litter, yet they won't invest in placing public trash cans around the city. Go figure!

4. Lack of Manners- While the people are incredibly friendly in Yemen, they have absolutely no manners. There are no such things as lines in Yemen for instance. If you go up to a shop, you just have to throw elbows and yell a lot. Even when I was at the supermarket, people will just cut right in front of you. Or if you are sitting down at most restaurants it is common for the customers to just yell at the "waiters", never including please or thank you. I've gotten quite used to this aspect of society, but at times it still bothers me. For instance when we (Ryan and I) were scheduling our flights, even at Yemenia, which was a formal office, the people will still just walk up when you were sitting at a desk with one of the workers and just start talking over you. It isn't because we are foreigners either, this is just how it is.

5. Variety of Food (Lack there of) - First, let me state that I like the food here. Even though I like the food, after a month and a half, it is growing old fast. These people literally eat about the same 3-4 dishes per meal, everyday. The other day I went out and got pizza for the first time and it was like heaven. So nice to just eat something different. Most of the time the lack of variety doesn't bother me, every once in a while I just have a craving for Western food. Nothing exotic either, just like a basic salad with dressing. The main thing I will miss about the food here is the juice. It is so good and so cheap. Can you imagine getting a freshly blended fruit smoothie in the States for 25-50 cents. Anyway, back to being negative.

6. Animal Cruelty- I have already talked about this, but still I thought I would throw it on my list. I heard the other day (and I wouldn't doubt it), that most of the dogs and cats are actually poisoned in Sana'a so that the population doesn't get to large. That or the people just kill them for fun, because I say ten times the amount of dogs and cats in the villages of Shibaam and Kawkaban that I visited last weekend.

7. Mood- Finally, the last thing that bothers me and most of the other students is the mood changes one experiences while studying in Sana'a. I am usually a pretty easy going, happy person. Here though I notice that my mood changes a lot from day to day. For instance, one day I will be excited about studying Arabic and living in Sana'a and then the next day I just want to head home. It isn't even that I'm homesick, it just seems to be the general consensus among the students that studying in Sana'a is a daily love/hate relationship. If I were just traveling around I don't think I would feel this way, but at times with the amount of Arabic I'm doing and the aspects I've mentioned above, I just get this urge to leave and go home. That usually passes though after a couple of minutes. In the end though, I am quite happy with my experience so far and the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.


*** T - 4 days until I leave for Ethiopia! Looking forward to a little "Spring Break" of my own in Addis Ababa.

Also if you still read this, post a comment b/c it looks like the "viewing" audience has greatly declined over the past few weeks. Partially probably my fault because a lack of fresh/exciting material.

Grad school update- I got rejected by NYU (I didn't want to go to a school whose color is Purple anyways!), so now I am waiting on GW. After that I will have heard from all the U.S. schools. Unless GW hooks me up with a sweet scholarship, it looks like it is going to be a battle between the U of Chicago and the U of Michigan, with U of London being the wild card that could throw a wrench into everything. I really like both Chicago and Michigan, but they are definitely styled differently. I can hear Dris, Gwyth, and my Dad (he wants to go to the football games) chanting Michigan into my ear from the States!


Links to Current Events in Yemen:

I forgot to mention there is a war currently going on in Yemen.

http://yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1034&p=front&a=1

Food insecurity in Yemen:

http://yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1034&p=local&a=2

Yemenis Largest Group of Detainees in Guantanamo:

http://yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1032&p=front&a=1

Link to Addis Ababa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addis_Ababa





Saturday, March 17, 2007

New Teacher, Traveling, Graduate School, and Good Ole Fist Fights

Ahlan wa Sahlen,

First off, I am still alive and well. Although I have come down with a bit of a head cold, I think it is from lack of sleep, because there has definitely not been a change in the season. Other than that though I am doing well.

Hmm, well to start off, I began working with a new teacher named Mohssin last week. He is a decent guy, a bit impatient (always jumping in and helping me out when I am reading or trying to say something), plus his hygiene isn't what I would refer to as "good". I'm hoping though that after working with him a bit things will work themselves out and we'll develop a good system for my studies. When I started working with Abdur Rahman (my afternoon teacher), at first I did not like his teaching style but now I think he is great. It is mostly because we worked out a methodical system that we have stuck with for the past month. Plus, we go slowly and he makes me figure things out on my own. He also emphasizes correct pronunciation, which is imperative to learning Arabic, or else no one will understand you. So anyway the past week of classes went alright, my classes with Mohssin were a bit "shaky" but my classes with Abdur Rahman continue to go well.

By the end of the week though I was feeling a bit burnt out from all this Arabic so my buddy Ryan and I decided we would go to the Yemenia Airline offices and try to book a trip to Addis Ababa in Africa for a week or so. Unfortunately, the cheap offer deals for Addis Ababa in March were all booked, so for some unfathomable reason we decided to look for flights to Djibouti City, mainly because Ryan kept saying that Djibouti had nice beaches, booze and French legionnaires. In reality, as I would find out later, Ryan actually knew nothing about Djibouti. We book a flight though to go there on the 19th (luckily we didn't pay). While we were at dinner afterwards, Ryan and I realized that we knew nothing about Djibouti and figured we better do some research. Once we got back we immediately went on the internet and looked up info about Djibouti City and guess what? Yes, you probably guessed it, all the reports from travelers said there is nothing there, it is hot as heck, it's way overpriced and stricken by poverty. So about three hours after reserving flights, we decided to cancel them. We are going back today to try and get a flight to Addis in the next two weeks for a decent price.

Other than this, nothing too exciting happened during the week. On the weekend though, things began to pick up. On Wednesday night, Thomas, Daniel and I went to dinner on Hadda Street, to Al Ahmar, like a Yemeni sit down version of fast food. While eating, this little boy, probably 5-6yrs old, kept smiling and giving us thumbs up. He was sitting out front of the restaurant working. He had a scale and charged like 5-10 rial for people to way themselves. So once we finished dinner we went out there and weighed ourselves. I also bought him a pack of peanuts, because unfortunately, the money the boy (Hamzi was his name) made most likely went straight to his parents. My bet would be on the money actually going to his Father's qat fund. It was quite sad that his parents would send him out on the street at 6 yrs old to work on the street. Yet, despite having his childhood stolen from him, Hamzi sat there, happy as a lark with a big smile on his face. Because of this, Thomas and I had the urge to get him something to reward him. We went next door to a little toy store and bought him a self-propelled bat mobile. The way his eyes lit up when he opened the bag with the car in it was truly priceless. After seeing what was in the bag he quickly wrapped his arms around it in a unbreakable ninja death grip. Unfortunately we didn't have a camera, but before we left we told the security guard outside the restaurant to not let anyone take the car from Hamzi. I would like to think he is currently the coolest kid in his neighborhood with is new bat mobile. We are going to try and go back and see him sometime in the near future.

On Thursday, I did my first traveling outside of Sana'a. Ali, Ryan, Fabien and I, headed out to Shabaam, which is a small village about an hour outside Sana'a. We took a taxi to Shabaam, not the most comfortable ride because they pack you like sardines into the car to make maximum profit. The trip out was beautiful. The landscape outside Sana'a is pretty barren and rocky, yet there were homes and farms scattered along the way. Once we arrived in Shabaam, we immediately started hiking up to Kawkaban (I didn't know but this was the main attraction of the trip). Shabaam is the town at the bottom of the mountain and you hike up to Kawkaban which is at the top. The hike up was not too difficult because there was a man made stone walking path most of the way to the top. There were also street lamps intermitently along the path, which I guess makes sense because it is the only way down/up from Kawkaban if you don't have a car. The view from Kawkaban was spectacular. You could see for miles around. Other than that there was nothing of note in Kawkaban, just very old houses, friendly people, and a cell phone tower which stuck out like a sore thumb. We had lunch at the tourist hotel (the only place to eat in Kawkaban). The food was great. We ate in the mafraj and sat around, chewed qat, and conversed for quite a while once our meal was over. Then in the early afternoon, we set off back down the mountain to Shabaam where we got a crazy taxi ride back to Sana'a. Our driver was a chain smoking, qat chewing phene, who was completely inaudible. His teeth were so bad he had a jar of grinded up qat which he shoveled into his mouth with a spoon. The car was quite a sight too, with a smashed windshield, no handles, and a steering wheel that looked homemade. Despite all of this, he got us back to Sana'a quite quickly.

On Friday, I kept up the traveling theme for the weekend by going to Wadi Dahr with Fabien in the morning. Once again we took a taxi, which was actually more expensive for a shorter trip. The main attraction in Wadi Dhar was Rock Palace, a Yemeni style palace which was built out of this massive rock. It turned out to be quite over populated with tourist (both foreign and Yemeni). It was beautiful, but there wasn't much to actually see other than the palace. Because it was in the wadi (valley) it was quite green, which was a nice change. After taking pictures and walking through the palace our taxi driver drove us up the mountain. From there we had an awesome view and took a bunch of pictures. Then we headed home and were back to school by 1pm (we left at 9:30am). It felt great to just get outside Sana'a this past weekend, because while I don't mind the city, it gets old quite quickly. Hence why I want to also go to Ethiopia, Ibb, Taiz, Aden and the Hiraz mountains in the next month and a half.

In the afternoon I played football at Al-Ahli like usual. Today wasn't much fun because the Yemenis like usual were acting like a bunch of children. There were at least three legitimate fights over the most trifling things ever. Plus there was a Tae Kwon Do tournament in the building next to where we play, so people were constantly walking on the field getting in our way (who knew Tae Kwon Do was big in Yemen). Then to top it all off, we lost our ball when one of the guys got pissed at his teammate and tried to punt the ball at him and missed, and the balled ended up on the roof of one of the houses around the field.

In news unrelated to Yemen, I heard from three graduate schools this week. I was ACCEPTED by the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago (whoohooo), but was REJECTED by Georgetown. I was not offered any scholarships to U of Mich. or U of Chicago. It doesn't matter that much for the University of Michigan because it is rather inexpensive, but stinks for Chicago because the school is about the same cost at QU, plus the living expenses are exorbitant because you are in Chicago. Never the less, I have some decisions to make in the coming weeks. Plus I still haven't heard from NYU or GW. As for Univ of London, that is a complete wild card and I will most likely have to pick a grad school in the U.S. before I even hear from them.


Breaking News: Later in the day after I wrote this post, Ryan and I went to Yemenia and officially booked/paid for flights to Addis Ababa for the 25th March. We are coming back 30th March, so it looks like I will be spending next week (inshaallah) checking out the capital of Ethiopia and hopefully so of the surrounding areas. I am pumped to take a brief break from classes and travel to Africa.

Take care everyone,

Rich